This year's Milan-San Remo has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but with spring in the air and the spring equinox falling on Friday March 20, the thoughts of professional cycling fans naturally turn to first Monument of the season and the slow-burning thrill of seeing if the sprinters, or instead the attackers, will prevail on Saturday afternoon.
As Barry Ryan wrote in his feature analysing the 10 ways to win Milan-San Remo on Wednesday, even in its absence, Milan-San Remo still endures. Over a century of memories are dotted along the 300 kilometres from the heart of Milan and along the Ligurian coast towards France. More will be added in the years still ahead.
Legendary editions of the race were held in the warming sun of the Italian spring, others affected by the cold and rain of the gods of the Italian winter.
In 2013, the race became a battle for survival after the riders were enveloped in a snowstorm for the opening 100km. Riders became covered in snow and ice, and frozen to the bone in scenes that recalled the 1988 Giro d'Italia won by Andy Hampsten and the legendary stage over the Passo del Gavia. For a moment, winter snow almost stopped Milan-San Remo.
I was there for Cyclingnews and followed each dramatic moment of the day; from the sense of fear in the rain-soaked start in Milan and the first signs of snow on the Lombardy plains, to the deep snow on the Turchino and the decision to stop the riders before the climb and travel by bus to the Mediterranean coast and find a quiet stretch of road to restart the race.
Riders were so wet and so cold after riding 100km in cold rain and snow that many, even some of the hardest hard men of the Classics, did not want to continue.
Race director Mauro Vegni and his staff at RCS Sport used their Italian ingenuity to keep the race alive and by convincing as many as teams and riders as they could to start again and ride on to San Remo. These days, with the Extreme Weather Protocol and modern concerns about health and rider safety, the race never have reached San Remo.
But in 2013 the riders begrudgingly put on whatever dry clothes they could, gulped down hot espresso coffees and a reduced peloton eventually gathered under a petrol station canopy before racing no to San Remo.
One rider told Cyclingnews that he has never recovered the feeling in a finger due to the cold of that day. But looking back a few years on, most riders have forgotten the pain and suffering they went through and remember the craziness of the historic moment.
"I was on form and my legs felt good, but the 100km in the snow were tough and affected the whole race."
Sagan finished second to Germany's Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) that day in a hectic small-group sprint. He has now ridden Milan-San Remo nine times and finished in the top ten five times, but never won the opening monument Classic of the season.
Only 135 riders finished the 2013 race, with Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha) last over the line. The likes of Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra defied QuickStep team orders and climbed off after the bus transfer, deciding they’d had enough. Vincenzo Nibali – then of Astana, and later the winner of the race in 2018 – had wanted to join them and soon threw in the towel, despite a chance of victory.
"I wanted to climb off, and I eventually did climb off," Nibali told Cyclingnews.
"It was a really difficult day. It was extreme weather, and extremely cold because we rolled along under the snow for 100km. How can you race on a two-centimetre carpet of snow? It was impossible."
Britain's Ian Stannard often revels in cold conditions, and raced all the way to San Remo – even joining a strong attack group after the Cipressa. They were joined by Sagan, Ciolek, Fabian Cancellara and a few others, and held off the rest of the peloton. Stannard finished a cold but proud sixth.
"It was pretty horrific," he recalled to Cyclingnews. "I can remember getting on the team bus after 100km in the snow and feeling so, so cold. I was frozen solid. It was weird to be up there in the finale, but nice, too.
"Geraint Thomas had crashed, and Eddy Boasson Hagen didn't feel great, so I just went for it. It was nice to have a big day out on a legendary day."
Click or swipe through our special gallery of photos from the snow-affected 2013 edition of Milan-San Remo.
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